Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Targeting 2°C

There is now something of a religious fervor around the international goal of 2°C, to the extent that it is almost impossible to discuss other trajectories or outcomes. The only contrast that seems possible with 2°C is something that nobody wants, which is the “do nothing” scenario of 4°C or more.

Yet the 2°C pathway is hardly clear cut in itself. A recent series of discussions in a business group I attend has highlighted the range of myth, confusion and misinformation that surrounds the current goal. Given that this is an international goal that most nations subscribe to, exactly where are we headed? The number itself has been around for a while, but it was finally agreed at the Cancun COP16 after first appearing in the text emanating from Copenhagen. The Ad-hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action agreed the following in Cancun:

Further recognizes that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to science, and as documented in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change, with a view to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions so as to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C above pre- industrial levels, and that Parties should take urgent action to meet this long-term goal, consistent with science and on the basis of equity; also recognises the need to consider, in the context of the first review, as referred to in paragraph 138 below, strengthening the long-term global goal on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge, including in relation to a global average temperature rise of 1.5 °C;

The text itself lays out an intention, but translating this into something tangible is easier said than done. It also turns out to be quite a divisive process and requires a deep dive into some reasonably complex statistics. This was perhaps best highlighted by the paper Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2°C, Malte Meinshausen, Nicolai Meinshausen, William Hare, Sarah C. B. Raper, Katja Frieler, Reto Knutti, David J. Frame & Myles R. Allen, Nature Vol 458 / 30 April 2009 (a copy is currently available here). Meinshausen et. al. showed that the uncertainty of the climate response combined with a variety of emission pathways delivers given probabilities for staying below 2°C, depending on the cumulative emissions over the period 2000-2049, with some indication of eventual outcome also given by emissions in 2020.

Excerpts from the table in the paper, giving probabilities of exceeding 2°C are shown below:

2 degree probabilities

 

This is all very well, but the next step is the tough one. The call at Cancun was to “hold the increase below 2°C”, but this means different things to different people. At the meeting I attended recently, some interpreted this as meaning a “reasonable probability”, which was then interpreted as 75%. The table above shows that this means a limit on cumulative emissions between 2000-2049 of 1,000 Gt CO2. But with emissions from 2000-2013 already totalling about 470 billion tonnes, that leaves a remaining budget until 2050 of just 530 billion tonnes. That’s about 14 years of full on emissions, or for example, a trajectory that requires an immediate peak in emissions followed by year on year reductions of about 1.2 billion tonnes until emissions are near zero. Delaying the peak until 2020 pushes up the reduction rate to nearly 3 billion tonnes per annum.

By contrast, accepting a 50% probability gives a very different outcome. Emissions can peak in 2020 and a reduction pace of 1 billion tonnes per annum is then required. Alternatively, should emissions plateau in 2020 and start reducing in 2025, the annual effort rises to 1.5 billion tonnes. These are still very challenging numbers, but almost a world apart from the 75% probability case. The 75% case is most likely unachievable given where the world is today.

What was clear from the meeting I attended was that two people who may both talk about 2°C have very different perspectives on likelihood, usually without any thought as to the reduction implications behind their assumption. The EU is at least clearer on this in its main publication on the 2°C Target, where it notes in the key messages, “In order to have a 50% chance of keeping the global mean temperature rise below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels . . . . .”.

Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map

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The world is not on track to meet the target agreed by governments to limit the long term rise in the average global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius (°C).

International Energy Agency, June 2013

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is well known for its annual World Energy Outlook, released towards the end of each year. In concert with the WEO come one or more special publications and this year is no exception. Just released is a new report which brings the IEA attention back squarely on the climate issue, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map. The IEA have traditionally focused on the climate issue through their 450 ppm scenario. While they continue to do that this time, they are also going further with a more pragmatic model for thinking about emissions, that being the “trillion tonne” approach. I have discussed this at some length in previous posts.

The report looks deeply into the current state of climate affairs and as a result fires a warning shot across the bows of current national and UNFCCC efforts to chart a pathway in keeping with the global goal of limiting warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The IEA argue that we are on the edge of the 2 °C precipice and recommends a series of immediate steps to take to at least stop us falling in. With the catchy soundbite of ” 4 for 2° “, the IEA recommend four immediate steps in the period from now to 2020;

  1. Rapid improvements in energy efficiency, particularly for appliances, lighting, manufacturing machinery, road transport and within the built environment.
  2. Phasing out of older inefficient coal fired power stations and restricting less efficient new builds.
  3. Reductions in fugitive methane emissions in the oil and gas industry.
  4. Reductions in fossil fuel subsidies.

These will supposedly keep some hope of a 2°C outcome alive, although IEA makes it clear that much more has to be done in the 2020s and beyond. However, it didn’t go so far as to say that the 2° patient is dead, rather it is on life support.

I had some role in all this and you will find my name in the list of reviewers on page 4 of the report. I also attended a major workshop on the issue in March where I presented the findings of the Shell New Lens Scenarios and as a result advocated for the critical role that carbon capture and storage (CCS) must play in the solution set.

As a contributor, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the outcome of the report, although it is understandable how the IEA has arrived where it has. There just isn’t the political leadership available today to progress the things that really need to be done, so we fall back on things that sound about right and at least are broadly aligned with what is happening anyway. As a result, we end up with something of a lost opportunity and more worryingly support an existing political paradigm which doesn’t fully recognize the difficulty of the issue. By arguing that we can keep the door open to 2°C with no impact on GDP and by only doing things that are of immediate economic benefit, the report may even be setting up more problems for the future.

My concern starts with the focus on energy efficiency as the principal interim strategy for managing global emissions. Yes, improving energy efficiency is a good thing to do and cars and appliances should be built to minimize energy use, although always with a particular energy price trajectory in mind. But will this really reduce global emissions and more importantly will it make any difference by 2020?

My personal view on these questions is no. I don’t think actions to improve local energy efficiency can reduce global emissions, at least until global energy demand is saturated. Currently, there isn’t the faintest sign that we are even close to saturation point. There are still 1-2 billion people without any modern energy services and some 4 billion people looking to increase their energy use through the purchase of goods and services (e.g. mobility) to raise their standard of living. Maybe 1-1.5 billion people have reached demand saturation, but even they keep surprising us with new needs (e.g. Flickr now offers 1 TB of free storage for photographs). Improvements in efficiency in one location either results in a particular service becoming cheaper and typically more abundant or it just makes that same energy available to any of the 5 billion people mentioned above at a slightly lower price. Look at it the other way around, which oil wells, coal mines or gas production facilities are going to reduce output over the next seven years because the energy efficiency of air conditioners is further improved. The fossil fuel industry is very supply focused and with the exception of substantial short term blips (2008 financial crisis), just keeps producing. Over a longer timespan lower energy prices will change the investment portfolio and therefore eventual levels of production, but in the short term there is little chance of this happening. This is a central premise of the book I recently reviewedThe Burning Question.

Even exciting new technologies such as LED lighting may not actually reduce energy use, let alone emissions. Today, thanks to LEDs, it’s not just the inside of buildings where we see lights at night, but outside as well. Whole buildings now glow blue and red, lit with millions of LEDs that each use a fraction of the energy of their incandescent counterparts – or it would be a fraction if incandescent lights had even been used to illuminate cityscapes on the vast scale we see today. The sobering reality is that lighting efficiency has only ever resulted in more global use of lighting and more energy and more emissions, never less.

doha_skyline_560px

An analysis from Sandia National Laboratories in the USA looks at this phenomena and concludes;

The result of increases in luminous efficacy has been an increase in demand for energy used for lighting that nearly exactly offsets the efficiency gains—essentially a 100% rebound in energy use.

 I don’t think this is limited to just lighting. Similar effects have been observed in the transport sector. Even in the built environment, there is evidence that as efficiency measures improve home heating, average indoor temperatures rise rather than energy use simply falling.

The second recommendation focuses on older and less efficient coal fired power stations. In principle this is a good thing to do and at least starts to contribute to the emissions issue. This is actually happening in the USA and China today, but is it leading to lower emissions globally? In the USA national emissions are certainly falling as natural gas has helped push older coal fired power stations to close, but much of the coal that was being burnt is now being exported, to the extent that global emissions may not be falling. Similarly in China, older inefficient power stations are closing, but the same coal is going to newer plants where higher efficiency just means more electricity – not less emissions. I discussed the efficiency effect in power stations in an old posting, showing how under some scenarios increasing efficiency may lead to even higher emissions over the long term. For this recommendation to be truly effective, it needs to operate in tandem with a carbon price.

The third and fourth recommendations make good sense, although in both instances a number of efforts are already underway. In any case their contribution to the whole is much less than the first two. In the case of methane emissions, reductions now are really only of benefit if over the longer term CO2 emissions are also managed. If aggressive CO2 mitigation begins early, and is maintained until emissions are close to zero, comprehensive methane (and other Short Lived Climate Pollutants – SLCP) mitigation substantially reduces the long-term risk of exceeding 2˚C (even more for 1.5˚C). By contrast, if CO2 emissions continue to rise past 2050, the climate warming avoided by SLCP mitigation is quickly overshadowed by CO2-induced warming. Hence SLCP mitigation can complement aggressive CO2 mitigation, but it is neither equivalent to, nor a substitute for, near-term CO2 emission reductions (see Oxford Martin Policy Brief – The Science and Policy of Short Lived Climate Pollutants)

After many lengthy passages on the current bleak state of affairs with regards global emissions, the weak political response and the “4 for 2°C “ scenario, the report gets to a key finding for the post 2020 effort, that being the need for carbon capture and storage. Seventy seven pages into the document and it finally says;

In relative terms, the largest scale-up, post-2020, is needed for CCS, at seven times the level achieved in the 4-for-2 °C Scenario, or around 3 100 TWh in 2035, with installation in industrial facilities capturing close to 1.0 Gt CO2 in 2035.

Not surprisingly, I think this should have been much closer to page one (and I have heard from the London launch, which I wasn’t able to attend, that the IEA do a better job of promoting CCS in the presentation). As noted in the recently released Shell New lens Scenarios, CCS deployment is the key to resolving the climate issue over this century. We may use it on a very large scale as in Mountains or a more modest scale as in Oceans, but either way it has to come early and fast. For me this means that it needs to figure in the pre-2020 thinking, not with a view to massive deployment as it is just too late for that, but at least with a very focused drive on delivery of several large scale demonstration projects in the power sector. The IEA correctly note that there are none today (Page 77 – “there is no single commercial CCS application to date in the power sector or in energy-intensive industries”).

Of course large scale deployment of CCS from 2020 onwards will need a very robust policy framework (as noted in Box 2.4) and that will also take time to develop. Another key finding that didn’t make it to page one is instead at the bottom of page 79, where the IEA state that;

Framework development must begin as soon as possible to ensure that a lack of appropriate regulation does not slow deployment.

For those that just read the Executive Summary, the CCS story is rather lost. It does get a mention, but is vaguely linked to increased costs and protection of the corporate bottom line, particularly for coal companies. The real insight of its pivotal role in securing an outcome as close as possible to 2°C doesn’t appear.

So my own “ 2 for 2°C before 2020“ would be as follows;

  1. Demonstration of large-scale CCS in the power sector in key locations such as the EU, USA, China, Australia, South Africa and the Gulf States. Not all of these will be operational by 2020, but all should be well underway. At least one “very large scale” demonstration of CCS should also be underway (possibly at the large coal to liquids plants in South Africa).
  2. Development and adoption of a CCS deployment policy framework, with clear links coming from the international deal to be agreed in 2015 for implementation from 2020.

But that might take some political courage!

As is well known by now, the EU MEPs voted against the specific backloading proposal that was put before the Parliament. However, the Parliament also voted against the outright rejection  of the proposal, which means that the Parliament formally has no position on backloading, possibly leaving the door open for a reformulated attempt at passage. I won’t dwell on that as it probably requires too much speculation and intrigue even for a blog.

The situation the EU finds itself in is spelled out in more generic form in the new Shell New Lens Scenarios. The scenarios tell stories about the future, but these are built around a series of paradoxes and pathways, with the latter illustrated below.

 Lenses

When the financial, social, political or technological capital encourage early action, it can result in effective change and reform. Room to manoeuvre exists and a new pathway forward is forged. But when such capital proves inadequate to withstand the stresses applied, behavioural responses delay change, causing conditions to worsen until ultimately a reset is forced or a collapse occurs. This is a trapped transition. 

The EU seems to be getting quite good at the latter, with the New Lens booklet giving the example of the EU handling of the financial crisis as a Trapped Transition Pathway;

The “can” keeps being “kicked down the road” while leaders struggle to create some political and social breathing space. So there is continuing drift, punctuated by a series of mini-crises, which will eventually culminate in either a reset involving the writing off of significant financial and political capital (through pooling sovereignty, for example) or the Euro unraveling.

Similarly for the EU ETS. While backloading was never the complete solution to the problems faced by the ETS, it could have given it enough momentum to see through a series of much needed reform measures, paving the way to a more robust and economically efficient climate policy framework. Instead, the Parliament has “kicked the can down the road”, setting up the conditions for further crisis later on. This in turn could do real damage to the ETS, leading to a very negative outcome, i.e. Write-off & Reset or Decay/Collapse. Many of those who opposed the backloading amendment argued that it was better to wait for the full structural reform discussion, but that discussion has no formal schedule and is unlikely to commence before the full debate on the 2030 roadmap. Even then, opposition will rear its head again and the structural reforms required could well be watered down.

The vote attracted quite a bit of media attention, with many articles and significant commentary.  Perhaps strongest of all was The Economist, which spoke of “profound consequences” that will “reverberate round the world”. The Financial Times took a different view in its editorial, effectively arguing that the backloading itself was akin to “kicking the can down the road” and instead called for the structural reform to start in earnest and “end the system’s absurdities”. This included border carbon adjustments, long term targets (of the 2050 variety) and dealing with the surplus of allowances.

I have and continue to be an advocate of emissions trading and carbon pricing, but it is looking increasingly unlikely that these systems will ever effectively trigger the one essential response to rising CO2 emissions, which is carbon capture and storage (CCS). There are too many other vested interests which continue to suck the life out of an ETS, including competitiveness concerns from participants, renewable energy targets, energy efficiency mandates, developing country needs and environmental justice to name but a few. These are all important policy desires, but they need to find their home elsewhere and not in the space occupied by an emissions trading system.

In the end if the ETS approach doesn’t deliver CCS in particular, then some form of mandated requirement could be imposed instead.

After a day in Brussels listening to European MEPs, it is clear that the Parliament vote next week on the Commission proposal to backload the auctioning timeline in Phase III of the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), is going to be very close. This is a policy proposal that was born out of the call by many participants in the EU ETS, as well as the European Parliament, to address the chronic allowance surplus and therefore begin to steer the CO2 price into a more useful range in terms of real action and investment. A positive vote on the proposal would also be the start of a more structured reform of the policy package designed to reduce emissions across the EU over the coming decades.

But in the frantic days left before the vote, clarity and reason are struggling to be heard over the clamour of opposition, so here are the top ten reasons why an MEP should vote to support the “backloading” amendment next week:

1. Market Confidence

The current CO2 price in the ETS is just a few euros. Even the assumption that there will be a robust price by 2030 (enough for deploying CCS in 2030s for example), but discounted back to now, should result in a higher price than the one we have. That means the market is discounting the ETS itself, in other words questioning its very existence in 2030. Nobody will invest given such an outlook. A positive vote for backloading will signal that the Parliament is prepared to act on the ETS and begin to restore confidence for energy investment decisions.

2. Low carbon Investment

Apart from its annual compliance function, which the ETS is delivering, its purpose is to provide an investment price signal. This in turn steers long term investment in the covered sector, providing support and justification for lower emission investment opportunities. The near zero price signal being seen today means the EU has returned to “business as usual” energy investment, which is even resulting in a resurgence of coal based power generation projects. This will just put upward pressure on EU emissions in the 2020s. 

3. Jobs

Rewind to 2008 and the €25-30 CO2 price, which in combination with the NER300 saw some 20+ CCS projects being considered. The construction of the world’s first CCS network was a real possibility. Today, with the exception of the UK where the necessary investment signal has been created in a national level “carbon policy bubble“, these projects have been shelved. So too have the jobs that would have been created had they gone ahead.

4. Credibility

Investment depends as much on long term credibility of the policy structure as the policy itself. Business investment will not proceed unless there is a belief that the supporting policy framework is robust and long lasting and therefore able to deliver the necessary return on that investment.

5. Leadership

While there is an issue with the EU over leading on actual emissions reduction, this isn’t the case with leadership on policy development to reduce emissions. Today, many states, provinces and countries have implemented or are in the process of implementing an ETS on the back of the initial success in the EU. They are now watching developments here closely as the EU debates the future of the system. A decision to reject the backloading proposal will potentially undermine the implementation of emissions trading globally (see 10 below).

6. Support

There is a noisy opposition to this proposal, as there was opposition in 2003 to even having an ETS and again in 2008 to building a full policy framework for managing emissions over the longer term. But many companies, institutions, business associations and individuals see the clear merit of a functioning market based approach for reducing emissions and strongly support the proposal. The voice of some European business associations on this issue is not necessarily the consolidated view of business in Europe. 

7. Europe

The ETS was designed to build on the strength of a single EU market and deliver through the synergy that it offers. A weak ETS is leading to fragmentation of this goal as national policies are developed to fill the gaps. Just look at what the UK government is having to do to shore up investment cases which would otherwise be supported by the ETS. This only means a less effective and ultimately more expensive route to the same goal. 

8. Growth

This is all about investment in the EU energy system. Without investment guided by credible policy and clear market price signals, growth stalls.

9. Environment

The carbon price delivered by the ETS is the only mechanism in place to drive the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage. Without this one critical technology, the climate issue simply doesn’t get resolved. The demand for, abundance of and low cost of extraction of fossil fuels may well be unassailable this century, so atmospheric CO2 will continue to rise. 

. . . and most importantly at #10 (well it’s actually #1)

10. Economy and competitiveness

An emissions trading system can deliver the lowest cost emission reduction pathway for the economy, but to do this it needs to be left to do the heavy lifting. The very low price of CO2 in the EU today is not a sign of low cost abatement, but quite the opposite. Abatement is being driven by other policies, with the cost to the economy probably much higher than necessary. The ETS needs to be restored as the principle driver of change in the EU energy system. This will lower energy costs in the EU, which in turns helps competitiveness.

Supporting backloading now won’t deliver all this in one go, but it will get the wheels of change in motion and importantly, signal an intent on the part of the Parliament to correct the energy and climate policy framework and make the EU ETS central to the overall delivery of current and future emission reduction goals.

The case for CCS demonstration

In recent months, particularly in the EU, the prospect of a major demonstration of CCS across various sectors and employing a variety of technologies has slipped badly. Perhaps the bottom was reached when in the EU not a single CCS project was awarded funding under the first round of the NER300, even though this mechanism was originally proposed for CCS (insertion into Article 10a of the ETS Directive, see below). Given that the second round has been announced and EU allowance prices are now even lower, the chance of a successful project under the NER300 must be close to negligible.

Up to 300 million allowances in the new entrants’reserve shall be available until 31 December 2015 to help stimulate the construction and operation of up to 12 commercial demonstration projects that aim at the environmentally safe capture and geological storage (CCS) of CO2 as wellas demonstration projects of innovative renewable energytechnologies, in the territory of the Union.

Yet this is a technology that can make a real difference to the problem of rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. I went further than this is my recent posts arguing that it is the only technology that can satisfactorily resolve the issue. The recently released Shell New Lens Scenarios show the impact of delay, even in a world with rapid deployment of renewable energy and its eventual domination of the energy system (Oceans scenario). The Mountains scenario sees CCS getting going in earnest in 2030, with an important start-up phase which sees some 20 million tonnes per annum of CO2 stored in 2020, rising to 400 million tpa by 2029. This means that by  2025 some 25 GW of power generation fitted with CCS is needed – there is effectively none today.

At the Gleneagles Summit in 2005, G8 leaders committed to “work to accelerate the deployment and commercialisation of Carbon Capture and Storage technology”, with a further recommendation at the 2008 G8 Summit in Japan that “20 large-scale CCS demonstration projects should be launched by 2010”. Similarly, the EU Heads of Government declared the need for 12 projects in the EU by 2015. So far, four big projects are operating and two further projects are under construction, although all are linked with process emissions of industrial facilities (various natural gas projects, a synfuels plant in the USA and the Quest oil sands project) rather than the power sector. A number of much smaller R&D projects are also in various stages of development. The G8 call was arguably linked with the political desire to limit global emissions to meet a 2°C goal (or a trillion tonnes of cumulative carbon emissions), which in itself requires CCS deployed on a major scale. As such, it is hardly surprising to see the IEA now telling us that 2°C is pretty much off the table. In the Mountains Scenario, which sees CCS finally getting going some 15 years later than the G8 call, 2°C isn’t met either, although the overshoot, while a concern, isn’t dramatic.

The lead time for any new energy technology, from pilot to the beginnings of commercial deployment and then to materiality in the energy system (>1%) typically takes some 25-30 years. I wrote about this some time ago on the back of a Nature article submitted by a colleague in our scenarios team. The various stages within this process are important, including the need for commercial demonstration. This step begins to de-risk the technology for future business investment, bringing some level of certainty to expected capital expenditure and ongoing operating costs in particular. For CCS there are other benefits as well;

  • A demonstration programme which comprises several projects begins to establish some infrastructure, which in turn lowers the cost for additional projects. Perhaps the best current example of this is in Rotterdam, where there are proposals for a CO2 pipeline loop in the industrial area of the city, connected to offshore storage in the North Sea. Given the large number of installations in the area, in combination with those further up the Rhine, real synergy is possible.
  • In some regions (and Europe is one, Germany in particular) there are growing issues with public acceptance of CO2 storage, even though there is little ongoing storage underway. A demonstration programme offers the opportunity to allay the fears related to storage.
  • Demonstration improves best practice in the operation of a CCS facility and related storage, particularly in a major grid dispatch situation.

Recently, policy makers in Brussels have started to voice the opinion that the EU could follow rather than lead on CCS. While they recognize the important role of the technology over the long term, they are questioning the need for the EU to invest and demonstrate in the short term. But waiting for others risks further delaying the deployment of this technology, which in turn is directly linked to the eventual accumulation of CO2 over this century and therefore temperature rise. Further, there are real EU projects on the drawing board today waiting for some stimulus, so doing nothing would be a real lost opportunity. The Commission is expected to publish a CCS paper later this month.

My good friend, Robert Swan, a polar explorer and environmentalist, often finishes his presentations with the quote;

“The Greatest Threat to Our Planet Is the Belief That Someone Else Will Save It.

It’s a good quote, even though it is a bit on the melodramatic side for me. But an appropriate CCS version might be:

“The real threat to the deployment of CCS is the assumption that someone else will demonstrate it.”

 

Dear ENVI Committee,

Next week you have to make an important decision on the future of the EU ETS. The Commission has proposed that 900 million allowances due to be auctioned at the beginning of this phase of the ETS be held back and returned to the market before the end of 2020. The objective is to remove a good portion of the allowance surplus that currently exists in the trading system and is putting extreme downward pressure on the resulting price of CO2 emissions. This isn’t a full solution to the problems that confront the trading system, but it is the only politically possible route forward that has been identified. It will provide the necessary breathing room for a more structural approach which must come over the next two years and which will cover the period through to 2030 and beyond.

The ETS was designed and implemented as the principal pricing mechanism to guide investment in power generation and industrial facilities across the EU such that long term CO2 reduction goals could be met at the lowest cost to society. Quite simply, it isn’t performing that role today. While Europe should be gradually shifting away from unmitigated coal and beginning to implement carbon capture and storage (CCS), coal consumption is on the rise and the CCS Demonstration Programme is on the brink of complete collapse. This is because the CO2 price in Europe today is effectively zero. The few Euros that an emissions allowance can command in the market is a reflection of future value, but even that is a cause for concern. At €4 today, this points to a price expectation in 2030 of €7, hardly an indication of a robust market based approach to managing emissions and introducing new energy technologies.

Many have argued that the market is working and delivering on the 2020 target. For this reason they have further stated that market intervention is not necessary. Unfortunately this is misguided and poorly informed thinking. While there is no doubt that annual compliance is functioning under the ETS and therefore the system will also force compliance in 2020, there is very clear evidence that longer term investment is not being guided by the ETS. Rather, investment is either not happening at all or is being driven by other factors and policies, some at EU level but many at Member State level as well. This is not leading the EU down a path of lowest cost emissions reduction, but is instead driving up energy costs in the EU. The very low price of CO2 in the EU does not represent low cost emission reduction opportunities being implemented, rather it is a very real symptom of a high energy cost pathway. This is important as it is not, or has ever been, the cost of CO2 that is impacting the competitiveness of EU industry. Even at previous levels of up to €30, in combination with the free allocation provisions for trade exposed industries, the CO2 price is a relatively benign factor.

The vote on backloading needs to be a “yes” vote. This signals the intention of the European Parliament to begin the process of restoration of the most cost effective approach to meeting Europe’s energy needs and reducing emissions over time. A “yes” vote won’t immediately restore the ETS to good health, but it is a start. Much work remains to be done. But following the advice of those who counsel for a “no” vote would mark the start of a very different pathway for meeting Europe’s energy needs – one that is less certain, more expensive and probably with much higher emissions over time.

Yours sincerely,

David Hone

Chief Climate Adviser, Royal Dutch Shell

Chairman, International Emissions Trading Association

The real price of CO2 in the EU

The EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) is facing tough times. Last week saw the price fall to below €3 after the European Parliaments’ Industry & Energy (ITRE) Committee voted against the Commission proposal to amend the ETS Directive to allow for backloading of ETS allowances (a compromise mechanism which will shift the auction profile in Phase III to remove allowances in the short term). At such a price level the system isn’t really functioning, rather it is little more than a short term compliance accounting system for reporting on CO2 emissions.

In effect, this means that the EU doesn’t currently have an explicit carbon price to drive change in energy and infrastructure investment, despite 10 years of policy in place designed with that single goal in mind. The very low price level also implies that there is no expectation for a real carbon price ever developing. In theory these allowances could be bought and banked through to Phase IV. Assuming a cost of capital of 5% (and of course availability of capital to do so), a €3 allowance would only need to fetch €7 in 2030 to cover this, which would be well below the price of a market which is presumably driving investment in carbon capture and storage, surely a technology being seriously considered by then. So what is the thinking that might lead to an ~80% discount in market value? Three possible scenarios could lead to such an outlook;

  1. The ETS has been stopped and the market doesn’t exist in the 2020s. In this case Phase IV would never be agreed and although there is formally no sunset clause in the system, it would effectively cease if no allowances for the 2020s were ever issued.
  2. The surplus cannot be removed by then, even with tougher targets. New crediting mechanisms continue to flood the system.
  3. Other policies will be doing the heavy lifting, leaving the ETS as a ”do nothing” policy instrument. The dominant policies will be ongoing renewable energy targets, CCS mandates, Emissions Performance Standards etc.

All of these are plausible, but I tend to think that the third one will be the ongoing problem. It is the problem today, as shown in the abatement curve chart below (an indicative CO2 price is shown on the vertical axis and the cumulative sum of reductions is shown on the horizontal access). The Renewable Energy Directive has brought projects forward which probably would not have happened until much later in the 2020s. This has had multiple effects within the EU energy system because of the presence of the ETS and its allowance based compliance. Whereas the 2020 goal might have been met through improvements in efficiency, fuel switching and the initial phase in of mature renewable energy technologies (all driven by the CO2 price), it has instead been met through a much less cost effective approach which forces the implementation of renewable energy projects first (including the less cost mature technologies), delays energy efficiency implementation and has the effect of pushing fuel switching and CCS into the 2020s and 2030s. The visible carbon price falls as a result, but the hidden carbon price operating in the economy is much higher.

 Low EU Carbon Price

 On top of this there was also the reduction in emissions as a result of the recession. This has had no real impact on the implementation of the renewable energy projects, but it further delays energy efficiency and pushes fuel switching and CCS into the 2030s and beyond. The resultant short term visible carbon price is near zero, but the same high hidden carbon price remains.

 Low EU Carbon Price - with recession 

With a near zero carbon price, no visible sign of CCS and delays in implementing energy efficiency, policy makers may then turn to further mandates, such as the case with the Energy Efficiency Directive. This, in combination with yet another round of renewable energy targets, exacerbates the situation, leading carbon market traders to take the view that their allowances will have minimal value no matter how long they wait.

Very little of this is being discussed in the context of the backloading proposal. Rather, an emotive discussion about trade exposure, the cost of carbon for energy intensive industries and the right or not of the Commission to intervene in the market is dominating the airwaves.

The real discussion needs to be around the role of mandates when an emissions trading system is in operation. As the charts above show, backloading will have very little impact if the mandate issue is not addressed as well. Nevertheless, structural reform needs to start somewhere, so let’s hope the EU Parliament Environment Committee and the Member States will take a more positive view of the importance of the ETS and therefore the backloading proposal, when they vote in February and April respectively.

In a year which saw extreme weather rise up the political agenda and the consequences of a changing climate starting to sink into our collective psyche, action to actually address the issue of rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere remained limited.

With regards issue recognition and despite arguments about attribution, the Bloomberg Businessweek headline after Hurricane Sandy was a telling moment. But events such as this seem to have a short half life, so it remains to be seen how lasting this will be.

 The principal policy instrument to trigger action, a price on CO2 emissions, did gain political traction and coverage, but its impact remained mute. Several jurisdictions introduced carbon pricing and others continued developing approaches and/or starting up schemes already in the pipeline. Notably, despite industry resistance, Japan introduced a modest carbon tax (although there has been a change in government since then so watch this space) and Kazakhstan leapt ahead of the pack by introducing an emissions trading system for startup this week. The Chinese trial systems began to take shape and there is now serious discussion about national implementation in the 2016 5-year plan. As of January 1st the California ETS is up and running, as is the Quebec system. The Australian carbon price mechanism started in 2012 and importantly the Australian Government passed legislation to link their system with the EU ETS. But fierce opposition forced the EU to take a step back with regards its plans to cover international aviation under the EU ETS.

The EU did however take one major step forward during 2012, in its recognition that a carbon market created as a result of an ETS may need some government intervention from time to time to keep it on track and relevant. Although the issue is far from settled, there is at least a proposal on the table aimed at supporting the weak market in the EU. The move also establishes an important precedent for the future, not just in the EU but probably in the minds of policy makers globally.

With global carbon prices remaining low, the one critical technology for actually rescuing the emissions problem, carbon capture and storage (CCS), struggled badly. Shell did announce an important project in its oil sands in Alberta, but other than this little else happened. At the end of the year the EU managed to deliver a damaging blow to the technology by not coming up with a single project to support with its NER300 CCS funding mechanism, despite having nearly €2 billion in hand to spend. Instead, the money went to some twenty or so small renewable energy projects. It’s hard to overstate the importance of CCS, yet it seems increasingly distant in terms of commercialization and deployment.

From a climate perspective, the year concluded in Doha with two weeks of talks that did a lot to tidy up the UNFCCC process, but hardly pushed the agenda forward at all. If the “holy grail” of a global deal really is to be agreed by 2015, then something remarkable needs to happen during 2013.

Happy New Year!

A major setback for CCS

Perhaps the best thirty minutes I spent at COP18 in Doha was listening to a presentation by Myles Allan, Professor of Geosystem Science in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford and Head of the Climate Dynamics Group in the University’s Department of Physics. The presentation was given at the opening of the WBCSD Business Day on Monday 10th December and focused on the root issue that must ultimately be dealt with, the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Myles made the point, very clearly with the aid of props, that while the UNFCCC and others argue endlessly about the flow rate of CO2 into the atmosphere (i.e. the emissions at some point in time), that fossil carbon continues to add to the carbon stock in the biosphere and that this stock is linked directly with global temperature, ocean acidity and so on. A portion of his presentation is available on YouTube. In short, the CO2 issue is a stock problem, not a flow problem. Dealing with it in terms of flow will not resolve the stock issue, at best it may delay it by a few years. At the current rate of accumulation, the 2 deg.C stock equivalent is passed in about 2043.

Myles concluded with just one key observation: that the logical conclusion of the stock approach to climate change (rather than the flow approach) is that CCS is the game changing technology. This comes from the view that the global use of fossil fuels for energy will not go away (and possibly not even decline) and therefore, to prevent the stock of carbon continuing to accumulate in the biosphere, fossil carbon must be returned to its source, the geosphere. As such, the focus of efforts in policy circles should be in getting CCS going as fast as possible.

Against this background came the news of last Friday from the European Commission regarding the award of the 1st round of NER300 project funding for CCS and novel renewable energy projects.

Nearly all RES projects were confirmed. Most CCS projects were, however, not confirmed by the Member State concerned, and therefore could not be retained. Member States were unable to confirm the projects for various reasons: in some cases there were funding gaps, while other CCS projects were not sufficiently mature to allow for such confirmation under the first call for projects.

Only one CCS project was mentioned, but this had already been withdrawn, so no CCS projects made it through to receive funding through the 1st call for projects. There is at least the small consolation that the money earmarked for the withdrawn CCS project will roll through to the 2nd call for projects, but this guarantees nothing for CCS. By contrast, 23 renewable energy projects are listed in the Commission document.

But the NER300 is a mechanism that was initially proposed to support CCS and underpin the construction of some ten demonstration projects across the EU.

It was first suggested in early 2008 by various proponents of CCS both within and outside the EU Parliament and consisted of a pool of 500 million allowances which could be drawn on in exchange for future stored CO2. In very simple terms, it would “multiply the prevailing carbon price”, which was seen as a necessary early step to kick-start this key technology. Throughout the negotiations surrounding the Energy and Climate package, the mechanism morphed somewhat: it linked itself to the New Entrant Reserve (NER), adopted novel renewable technologies, fell to as low as 100 million allowances at one point but ended up at the 11th hour as the final gavel fell at 300 million allowances (hence the name – NER300). As I described back in June;

The mechanism, in combination with a robust underlying carbon price, meant that a viable demonstration programme could emerge. The 300 million allowances could conceivably generate €9 billion in funds, which meant up to €1.35 billion for some projects (i.e. the 15% limit). With potential Member State co-funding adding additional support, a 500 MW end-to-end CCS power station was even feasible and some of the projects originally submitted to the Commission for consideration were on this scale.

But the collapse of the CO2 price in the EU throws a huge question mark over the viability of the programme. So far the European Investment Bank (charged with monetizing the 300 million allowances) have sold over a 100 million allowances at a price of around €8.10 each. That’s a good effort in the current market, but it substantially changes the economics of a project. Now the maximum grant that any given project can collect is €360 million and it will be operating in a €6 CO2 market. Even with matching funds from the relevant member state, now much more challenging due to EU financial circumstances, a large scale project looks very unlikely. Large scale early CCS projects require a CO2 price in the range €60-100, not €20-25 (assuming €6 ETS price, maximum NER 300 financing and some member state co-financing).

The selection process for projects will proceed over the balance of this year with an announcement expected in December, but at least for the CCS part of the NER300 (innovative renewable energy projects are also supported) one wonders how this will pan out.

This had all the hallmarks of a train wreck waiting to happen, with the observers watching from the sidelines. Sadly, despite the efforts of groups such as ZEP, the trainwreck is now underway. The EU Commission has followed the NER300 rules to the letter (which arguably it has to), the market isn’t providing the necessary carbon price for CCS investment and Member State support is lacking given the EU financial situation.

The end result is the sad but unfortunately predictable absence of CCS projects from a funding mechanism specifically designed to support them. While CCS projects will still develop in the UK, Australia, Canada and the USA, no single country has the ambition of the original EU demonstration programme. The NER300 process will continue but CCS may fare no better in Round 2 if action isn’t taken. The Commission and Member States need to reflect on the outcome of the first round of the NER and learn the lessons, perhaps looking again at the conditionality of the funding to ensure that the second round awards result in an overall balance between renewables and CCS across the mechanism as a whole.  The EU Commission has a real challenge in front of it to rescue the situation, although with 200 million allowances now allocated in the first round (albeit with some money returning for the failed CCS project), there is limited resource remaining for a meaningful demonstration of CCS.

If CCS is the game-changing technology for the climate issue, then we may well be on our way to a very different but much more significant trainwreck.

I came across an article from the Breakthrough Institute which argues for the benefits of government support for new energy technologies. The story is a few months old, but still highly relevant – in any case a related story is back on their front page this week. The technology in question is hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract natural gas from shale formations (shale gas). Breakthrough have come to the conclusion that the boom in shale gas is largely the result of considerable early investment in the technology by the US DOE. The article argues that this technology has transformed the USA energy scene, also resulting in a drop in US CO2  emissions. But the crunch point is the comparison with the EU, where the focus on emissions reduction has been through the development of carbon pricing. Breakthrough argues that the US is shifting rapidly to a lower carbon economy on the back of successful technology push policies, whereas the EU has a failed carbon market which is now even seeing a resurgence in coal use, some of it imported from the USA.

The differing experiences in Europe and the United States illustrate the relative efficacy of direct technology push versus carbon pricing in emissions reduction and advanced technological deployment. As we wrote in a February 2012 article in Yale e360, “the existence of a better and cheaper substitute has made the transition away from coal much more viable economically, and it has put wind at the back of political efforts to oppose new coal plants, close existing ones, and put in place stronger EPA air pollution regulations.”

. . . . .

America’s investments in technological innovation contrast strongly with the European Union’s preference for pricing signals. As Europe follows through on plans to build new coal plants that will burn for decades and America leads recent global decarbonization trends, we continue to find little evidence of success from the ETS or any other major carbon pricing schemes around the world.

There is no doubt that from an emissions perspective, the US is benefitting from the current gas boom. Back in June the IEA reported;

US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. This development has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector (linked to efficiency improvements, higher oil prices and the economic downturn which has cut vehicle miles travelled) and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector.

However, the story that Breakthrough is telling is more about linking events after the fact, rather than analyzing the real policy drivers. According to both Breakthrough and an analysis by Associated Press, DOE funding of fracking goes back decades, as does DOE funding for a range of energy technologies. However, this funding wasn’t linked to emissions reduction, but more to the general need for energy supply diversity, energy security and therefore the cost of energy. I have always argued for technology funding, it is an essential part of the policy landscape, particularly for technologies such as CCS. Canada has been active in this regard, with significant funding for CCS demonstration, such as for the Shell Quest project.

But it wasn’t the technology funding on its own that has delivered the change in the US. Price signals have played a key role, it is just that they are less transparent than the carbon price in the EU. Although there isn’t a carbon price mechanism operating in the USA today (across the whole economy), existing coal fired power stations and almost certainly any new ones being considered are still exposed to carbon pricing. This comes from the expectation of carbon pricing in the future, through regulation under the CAA or a later Congress implementing direct pricing. Shell uses such a price premise in its own projects, including those in the USA. We are on record at $40 per tonne of CO2. There are also more price signals for coal, such as from the new mercury rules.

What has worked in the USA is the combination of funding for new energy technologies and a price signal in the market which then drives deployment. It also happens that the coal fleet is old and even the longevity optimists amongst the power producers are starting to count down the number of years before replacement is due. Eventually, the combination of age, cost of natural gas, expected cost of emissions and likely investment required to keep the coal running delivers the knockout blow.

Turning to Europe, the modest resurgence in coal use comes from a similar set of sums, it’s just that the answer is different. The natural gas prices currently seen in the USA aren’t available, coal is getting cheaper thanks in part to US exports and the carbon price signal can even be locked in at relatively low and known levels by using the market. The result is less than desirable from the atmosphere’s perspective, but it is the reality of the current pricing signals. Back in June, Bloomberg reported;

Europe is burning coal at the fastest pace since 2006, as surging imports from U.S. producers such as Arch Coal Inc. (ACI) helped cut prices 26 percent in a year and benefited European power companies including EON AG. Demand for coal, the dirtiest fuel for making electricity, grew 3.3 percent last year in Europe while sales of less- polluting natural gas fell 2.1 percent, the steepest drop since 2009 . . .

None of this means that the EU approach to managing CO2 emissions is wrong or that price signals don’t do anything. Quite the reverse. It’s just that the answers coming out are currently giving some unexpected outcomes.